Naghsh’e Jahan Square is situated at the center of the city of Isfahan. It is an important historical site and one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. The square is surrounded by buildings from the Safavid era. The entrance to the Grand Bazaar and the Imam Mosque are opposite one another on the short ends while the Ali Qapu Palace and the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque face one another on the longer sides. The square is depicted on the reverse of the Iranian 20,000 rials banknote.
This square is from the period of Shah Abbas I. The perimeter of the square forms a rectangle with two long sides and two short ends. It has a length of 500 meters from north to south with its width being approximately 165 meters. It is completely surrounded by decorated arcades and a bazaar, with the center of each side marked by a monumental building.
During the reign of Shah Abbas I and his successors, this square was an area where festivities, polo, dramatics and military parades took place. The Safavid King Shah Abbas selected an open area of ground between the older Seljuk city and the Zayandeh River. This market place was taken as the centerpiece of the new city and Shah Abbas laid out an immense square, the Naqsh’e Jahan Square, nearly 1700 feet long -- twice the size of Red Square in Moscow, seven times the size of St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Naghsh’e Jahan Square is the second-largest square in the world (after Beijing's Tianamen Square).
Currently Naghsh’e Jahan Square, wherein once a vast array of precious Iranian handicrafts and artworks were offered, has turned into a park and a shopping center with shoddy Chinese handicrafts and goods. The scene has been described as unpleasant for the tourists coming to visit the square, which is one of Iran’s first monuments to be registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Negligence in not placing traffic restrictions on the historical site is also cause for criticism.
In late 2007 Patrick Hermes president of the Federation of International Polo (FIP) referred to the ancient 2000-year history of Polo in Iran and specified unique roots of this sport within the culture of Iranians. In his visit to the Naqsh’e Jahan Square he pointed out that Isfahan is one of most ancient cities of the world and Naqsh’e Jahan Square had been the first field of polo. He further expressed to hold Polo competitions in this square in near future. Reza Gharakhanloo, president of the national Olympic committee of Iran announced the readiness of this committee to support ancient national sport of Polo in Iran through holding conferences, meetings, and International gatherings.
Close by, the construction of Jahan Nama Tower, a commercial complex and tall building at a distance of only 760 meters from Naqsh’e Jahan Square was never approved by UNESCO to begin with and its height exceeded UNESCO standards. The Tower was clearly visible from Isfahan’s World Heritage Site. In 2007 the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) sent a formal request to UNESCO through its office in Tehran, seeking the possibility to lower the height of Jahan Nama Tower less than what is expected (by removing the upper two floors). UNESCO had unofficially approved the request as opposed to removing the historic square from the World Heritage List.
Aside from the threat to the Naqsh’e Jahan Square from the Jahan Nama Tower, another catastrophe is threatening the square. A restoration project underway as part of the square’s second floor known as Hojreh has turned into a destructive factor for the site. The use of heavy mortar in restoring the site has caused wide cracks in the ceiling and experts believe that catastrophic irreversible damage can be expected. A restoration project had begun on the second floor in the late 90s, but shortly afterwards it was stopped and no specific reason was given for the halt. Experts have warned that if the overburden is not removed from the ceiling, the structure will collapse in the near future, he noted.
The national uprising against the Islamic regime aftermath of the June 12 presidential election, Islamic Republic's militias have caused damage to parts of the Safavid dynastic era square in Isfahan. Some flowerpots have been broken by the staging installed for the Friday prayer and also by various meetings by the regime at the site. Tile work and stones of some columns of the Imam Mosque have been broken by regime's vehicles carrying the staging. In addition, the blare of loudspeakers installed at Naghsh’e Jahan for various ceremonies by the regime also has caused damage to monuments located around the square. “The sound of the loudspeakers is seriously damaging the site’s ancient mud-brick structures,” a CHTHO (Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization) expert, who requested anonymity, said.